In 2015, the City of Cedar Rapids was asked to participate in the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) “Project Civic Access,” which included a settlement agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Project Civic Access reviews cities across the country to ensure compliance with ADA standards. Cities are chosen to participate based on their size and demographic, not as the result of a complaint. Learn more about Project Civic Access.
The Public Works Department has been aggressively tackling thousands of sidewalk curb ramps that do not meet ADA standards, which makes it difficult for someone in a wheelchair or someone pushing a stroller to walk through a neighborhood.
The settlement agreement requires the City of Cedar Rapids to be in compliance with Title II of the ADA in various capacities including city-owned facilities and sites, curb ramps, programs, policies and procedures.
Sidewalk Curb Ramps: Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What curb ramps need to be constructed or reconstructed under the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement?
A: According to the Settlement Agreement, the City is required to reconstruct all non-compliant curb ramps that have been constructed or altered since January 26, 1992 – which is when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect. Out of 10,000 total curb ramps in the city, staff identified an estimated 3,800 as needing to be reconstructed based on this criterion. These include sidewalk curbs that have no ramps at all, or sidewalk curbs with pre-existing ramps that are now out of compliance with current standards.
Q: Why are so many ramps out of compliance?
A: After the ADA was passed in 1992, cities were required to ensure new infrastructure or facilities moving forward were built to ADA standards. Many of the curb ramps identified as needing to be repaired have been affected by the climate and often shift out of compliance due to the freeze-thaw cycle we experience in the Midwest. Other ramps were built to standards current at the time of their installation, but have since become outdated.
Q: Why are newly installed curb ramps being ripped out and reinstalled?
A: Curb ramps must be built to very specific design standards. If a ramp fails initial inspection, it must be ripped out and reconstructed. The Settlement Agreement required the City to hire a third party Independent Licensed Architect (ILA) to certify whether the alterations, additions and modifications made by the City comply with the ADA standards. Curb ramps are difficult to construct within the tight construction tolerance allowed, and are often found to be out of compliance by something as minor as the finishing brush stroke (the difference sometimes as thin as a paper clip). If a ramp fails inspection and needs to be reconstructed, the cost falls on the private contractor, not City taxpayers.
Q: How long does it take to reconstruct curb ramps?
A: In the timeframe between July 2015 and November 2018, approximately 1,950 out of the 3,800 curb ramps were successfully installed or reconstructed. The City is aggressively tackling the remaining number of curb ramps identified in the Settlement Agreement.
Q: Why isn’t every curb ramp included in the Settlement Agreement?
A: If a sidewalk was installed prior to 1992, the Settlement Agreement does not require ADA compliance by a certain date. However, the City is undertaking several measures to help address remaining curb ramps not outlined in the Settlement Agreement (see Q&A below).
Q: How is the City ensuring that ALL curb ramps are in compliance, not just those outlined in the Settlement Agreement?
The City would like to see all sidewalk curb ramps compliant with ADA standards for the health and safety of all our citizens. Following the completion of the ramps that are required by the Department of Justice, the City will undertake on its own the reconstruction of remaining ramps that will continue for several years. This Transition Plan will include a prioritized list of missing or out-of-compliance ramps. In addition, the City already requires all construction projects to include ADA-compliant sidewalk ramps.
Q: What I can do if I see a sidewalk curb ramp that needs to be repaired or installed, or if I need an ADA-accessible route in my neighborhood?
A: Please email the location and description of your concern or request to firstname.lastname@example.org to ensure it’s on our list. You can also call Public Works at 319-286-5802. The City will prioritize the list of needs and continue to address concerns after the Settlement Agreement has been fulfilled. When possible, the City will also try to add the work to a future road project.
Q: What is the City doing to ensure sidewalks are accessible?
A: While the maintenance and repair of sidewalk is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, the City does have a process in place for reviewing sidewalk and ensuring repairs are made to damaged sidewalk. This includes reviewing sidewalks, notifying property owners of their responsibilities, and if necessary, undertaking repairs. If the City repairs a sidewalk, the cost is assessed to the adjoining property owner. Partial reimbursement is available for property owners who undertake sidewalk repairs themselves. Financial assistance is also available to those who qualify. The City continues to focus on overall walkability within the community and accessibility will be a key factor in the implementation of the Pedestrian Master Plan.
Q: What practices have been put into place to increase efficiencies with constructing ADA sidewalk ramps?
A: The City has enacted a proactive review process to ensure that all new and reconstructed curb ramps are fully compliant with ADA requirements and State and local code. Once construction of a curb is complete, Construction Engineering staff audit the ramp to ensure it complies. Once the curb ramp complies, a post-construction audit is conducted by the Independent Licensed Architect. A contract is only closed when the project is audited and found to be fully accessible. The goal is to address all compliance issues as early as possible to ensure our facilities are fully accessible and to eliminate the need for future remediation efforts.